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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

JULY and the SUMMER SAINTS


The summer months are full of church holidays, fiestas and local celebrations.  Nearby towns on the mainland part of Greece called the Peloponese celebrate the artichoke and the aubergine and the olive.

Translations:
Agia - female saint
Agios - male saint
Panagia - Madonna/Virgin Mary




June30/July 1 Agious Anagyri  Τhese two saints go together.  Their names are Kosmas and Damianos and they were healers.  There is a huge festival at the monastery of Agious Anagyrous, about an hour and a half away on the mainland.  We have been most years in the early evening before the crowds get too much.  This is summer and the evening heat and the crowds can be overwhelming.  Besides the service at the monastery there is also a kilometre long open-air market where we have bought a wooden paddle for our outdoor oven, children's clothing, bags of nuts, pillows and assorted household china, books and souvlaki with cans of cold beer.  First of all we queue up outside the monastery gate and are let in a few at a time.  The inside  line to get into the tiny church and light a candle is crushing.  The monks inside the church are chanting and cover us all with incense.  There is no room for more than a few of the faithful so everyone must drop a few coins in the box beside the candles, take two or three simple brown wax tapers, kiss the icon of the two saints and slowly make their way to the sand box, plant and light the candles, vigorously crossing themselves, before being released to the fresh air of the garden.

Around midnight comes the climax when the icon of the saints is brought out and taken around the monastery walls.  It is usually preceded by a local band and followed by priests with incense burners swinging, chanters and altar boys carrying candles.

We didn't go this year because of the crisis.  Next year we'll be there,  Mrs Merkel and God willing.

July 2  the little church called Vrysoula (meaning, the tap, as it is built beside a spring).  This church is dedicated to the Holy Belt of the Panagia (Madonna)  Once again it is a tiny church and the congregation stands outside to listen to the service.  This church is also popular for baptisms and weddings.  It is set back from the road under the spreading chestnut trees and there is a trough of running water which makes it so cool and fresh in the summer.  One of the icons in the church has been painted by K's cousin.

July 7  Agia Kyriaki  the little church at Liminaria on the island of Agystri.  Liminaria is the birth place of K's father and many in the small village are related to us.  We haven't been on the actual fete day of the church but were there to see the preparations one year.  The main street (50 metres long) was strewn with the branches of a fragrant local plant and was wonderful to inhale as we rode over it on our scooter.  The church and the street were covered with strings of flags and the one taverna had extra chairs and tables set up along the roadside ready for the many hungry visitors after the service.

17 July  Agia Marina  This saint is known around here as the protector of small children.  After reading the official accounts of her life I cannot see why.  There is a small church dedicated to her just below our old house where daughter Elli now lives.  Almost the only service which takes place there is on the eve and the day of her fiesta.  My sister-in-law used to take my 2 daughters there for communion.  Now they take their own children.

20 July  Profit Elijah (Elias)  His churches are always built on the top of moutains (or hills) though I am not sure why even after studying him on Wikipedia.  There is a folk tale which explains it all but this is not mentioned and I am not going to tell you either.

25 July Agia Anna.  This little church on the outskirts of Galatas, the village across the water is looked after by the Galatas inlaws, Nota and the maiden aunts.  They clean and polish this tiny church, put doilies and fresh flowers around the icons and polish the silver candlesticks.  The church is another of those tiny white churches with just enough room for the priest, chanter and a few of the more devout.  It has a tall Cyprus tree hugging one side, almost built into the walls.
St Anna has two festivals, one in July and one on 9 December.

26  July Agia Pareskevi.  This little church is just across the hillside from us and is a very popular celebration.  The Mayor and dignitaries turn up at the fiesta along with what seems to be half the population of Poros.  The road down to the church is very narrow and creates a huge traffic jam.  Most people come to the evening service on the eve and afterwards either go down to the bay below where the beach bar serves up roast pork and has live music and dancing till the wee hours or they go up to Paradise Taverna at the top of the hill and have their traditional roast pork there with cold beers and wine.

I make the 'five loaves' (with out the fishes) and a loaf of special bread with a holy stamp in the middle.  These are blessed and then cut up and passed out at the end of the service.  Many local women make these loaves along with other cakes and sweets made with olive oil.   It is a mad dash to get a bit of everything.  The 'five loaves' are a sweet bread and I use a recipe from Crete which has cinnamon and cloves, red wine, orange juice and 'mastiha' which is the resin of mastiha tree from the island of Chios and has an unusual aromatic flavour.

These are the local fiestas but every area has its own special saints and martyrs.  The greatest feast of all the year is on August 15, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  It is a national holiday and Greece closes down to celebrate.  Athens is empty, Poros is full and has traffic jams.  Every little church, monastery and municipality that is named after the Virgin Mary will have parades, church services, processions and feasts with local specilalties, wine and  some sort of roast or boiled meats.

Before the 15th August many will have been on a 15 day fast so there is even more reason to eat drink and be merry.  I always think it would be a good time for the Turks to attack.  There would no resistance whatsoever.  But if Mrs Merkel tried a new trick I'm sure she would be completely ignored.

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